Open Letter to Lib-Dem Lord Clement-Jones re: Web Blocking.

[I just sent this in response to the Open Rights Group’s call to contact the Lib-Dem and Conservative Lords over their proposed amendment to the Digital Economy bill allowing sites to be blocked under suspicion of enabling the transfer of copyright materials.]

Dear Lord Clement-Jones,

Along with everyone I know who works in IT/the internet and the music industry (yes, ‘everyone’), I am entirely opposed to the digital economy bill – the assumptions it makes about the relationship between people making a living online and the rights of media conglomorates to continue peddling an outmoded understanding of how digital assets are best exploited in a world where distribution and even marketing can be done for free and revenue gathered at many different stages of the process.

As a musician, writer, teacher, university lecturer and owner of an independent record label, I have found the free flow of information online to be utterly vital in freeing me from the inethical, counter-creative and monopolistic practices of the big media entities (such as major record labels) and allowing me to build a SME, to partner with other SMEs in broadening the base of the UK online economy.

The web is enabling a switch in the recording industry away from a state where a tiny percentage of ‘lottery winners’ sell millions of records and everyone else remains hopelessly in debt to a label who lend them money, spend it on themselves and hold onto copyright beyond the point where the loans have been paid back. It’s unsustainable and the wonder of the digital economy is that artists are able to manage that themselves – that we’ve moved from hundreds of people selling millions of records to thousands upon thousands of individuals selling hundreds or thousands of recordings, but more importantly, doing so in a creatively and economically sustainable way without giving away their rights.

For those people, the distribution networks on the web that the Digitial Economy Bill with either explicitly or inadvertently shut down are a vital resource for connecting with an audience at a time when the cost of conventional marketing channels (often owned by those same media giants that were acting in such an anti-creative way under the old model) are prohibitively high, enough so to guarantee that all projects beyond those with outside leverage (read: big media backing) will lose money.

In the new economy that doesn’t need to happen. I and my peers can make the music we love, find and audience and allow a range of entry points for them to contribute financially to the ongoing production and performance of that music, and it works. It works time and time again.

At a time when major label entities who are fighting the internet are falling apart (look at EMI’s current crisis), independent musicians are thriving. No-one is making millions, but no-one needs to. The right to become insanely rich by exploiting the intellectual property of others is not something that should be enshrined in law to the detriment of the sustainability of the tens of thousands of people making a healthy, legal, creative and culturally significant living through the internet.

The Digital Economy Bill threatens tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods, while protecting the interests of a handful of very rich people at the top of the big media food-chain, while peddling a series of falsehoods and misused statistics about the state of play for Britain’s creative industries. Please, withdraw the nonsensical amendment with regard to ‘web blocking’ – it’s counter to the good of Britain’s digital economy,

Yours sincerely,

Steve Lawson

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  1. Thank you for writing this open letter. I hope it will be read and understood in the spirit of sharing and helping everyone to achieve their potential through creativity hard work and committment.

  2. My response:

    Dear Lord Clement-Jones,

    As a proud member of the Liberal Democrat party I was pretty appalled to see that you’ve lent your support to this web blocking amendment blocking sections of the web.

    I’m a software engineer and have provided consultancy and training to various companies around Europe. This amendment is not only violates the principles of how the internet should work but is also not even slightly practical to enforce.

    The internet, as a technology, detects any efforts to “block” a site as a failure and simply routes around it. It’s literally impossible, without removing the source, to ever prevent access to certain material. Through the use of anonymous relays, proxy servers, VPNs, SSH tunnels and a swathe of other techniques it’s trivial for any semi-technical individual to circumvent any blocks and also encrypt their data, meaning it’s impossible for anyone other than the source to detect that they have done so.

    If there is illegal material on the internet then the ONLY way to deal with it is to shut it down at the source. If that source is beyond the UK’s legal jurisdiction then it simply cannot be blocked. It is not possible to do so, it has never been possible to do so and never will be. Any block or form of restriction on the internet needs only one person to be able to break through and then they can let anyone else access it.

    Now that I’ve covered the technological reasons why this bill cannot be enforced I’d like to cover the sociological reasons.

    This bill gives the government terrifying levels of ability to censor and block material they don’t like being present. It is already a crime to violate copyright law by unauthorised distribution, I have to ask why another law is needed to enforce this?

    Thanks for your time, I hope I’ve convinced you to withdraw your support for this “blocking” measure.

    Yours sincerely,
    Mike Arthur

  3. Excellent comment.
    Shame It passed 🙁
    The Lib Dems have achieved what seemed impossible and made the Digital Economy Bill even worse…

  4. Brilliantly and succinctly put, with excellent additional evidence from Mike Arthur. I can’t see how the Digital Economy Bill is going to help build any economy at all. I can understand the need to protect copyright holders, but this bill fails to address that issue in any enforceable way.

  5. Brilliant. I wrote to Lord Clement-Jones but had neither the time nor the words to put it as well as you and Mike Arthur. Well done.

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